A book which has been hailed by MP turned author Alan Johnson as a fascinating social history and an essential guide to business has now raised more than £16,000 for a charity dedicated to animals.
“Half a Lettuce”, written by the chair of Sewell Group Paul Sewell, charts his life growing up in Hull and his career journey to the top of one of the region’s most successful companies.
It’s unlikely to exercise the filmmakers who specialise in family favourite tear-jerkers, but they could do worse than switch on to another miracle of Christmas from the stories of the remarkable Hull Animal Welfare Trust.
Sue Sewell, Chair of the Trust, said: “It was Christmas 1985 when we found a dog abandoned with her puppies on the streets of Hull. There was absolutely nowhere we could find a home for her so we advertised and asked around and a market gardener said we could use the two sheds at his smallholding.
“We came for a look. He was glad of the company and he said we could stay. Suddenly we had enough room for six or seven dogs but the facilities were very basic with only one water standpipe, which froze in winter, and a hole in the ground which we dug to dispose of the animal waste.
“When he died, he left everything to the Trust. Owning our own land gave us security and over the years we have worked hard to raise the money we needed to invest in the site, building new accommodation gradually and create a facility where the animals are warm, safe and have outdoor areas for exercise and play.”
Paul – Sue’s husband – published Half a Lettuce just after the nation headed into a series of lockdowns in 2020. He decided from the outset that instead of charging a set price for the book he would invite donations to the charity co-founded by his wife in 1982 as a club finding foster homes for abandoned dogs and cats.
Plans to launch the book at a joint event with Alan in Paul and Sue’s home village of Cottingham were abandoned because of the pandemic but the endorsement by the former MP, who has now written six acclaimed books, ensured a brisk start to sales.
Alan enthused: “From its vivid description of Hull’s fruit market in the 1950s to the way it illustrates the rise of the Sewell Group to be one of the Sunday Times top companies in Britain, Half a Lettuce is a fascinating story, beautifully told.
“It shows how a secondary modern boy from a tough East Riding family overcame every setback to become an inspiring leader determined to nurture success in others.”
Paul doubled the print run to 1,000 and admits to being blown away by the book’s success.
He said: “I can’t say it flew off the shelves because it wasn’t in any shops, but the big stack of books that was in my garage is now much smaller. We’re down to about the last hundred, which is a very pleasant surprise given that we couldn’t have a launch event.
“Alan described it as being two books in one – a social history of the area and a business book – and the result is it’s been random, curious people from all over the world. Some are current contacts and some are friends from years ago, even from my football days with Hull City and Bridlington Town, people from my days working with my Dad in the fruit trade.
“We’ve shipped it to a few countries including Australia, the USA, Canada, Estonia. It’s global. Hull people get everywhere and have taken these stories with them. Most importantly they have helped us raise a decent amount of money for a fantastic charity and hopefully we can bring in bit more from the remaining copies.”
The club was launched in Hull in 1982 and became a registered charity 10 years later under Sue and the Treasurer, Jane Harper. It built its first kennels at the smallholding in South Cave in 1997 and celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. Sue, who with her CEO Holly Barker leads a team of 10 staff and about 40 volunteers, said the revenue from the book helped the Trust survive the pandemic and build a platform for further investment and expansion.
She said: “When we went into lockdown the first time, we closed our charity shop, we couldn’t home any animals and people were bringing us food but they couldn’t come into the building so they just left the sacks outside. I honestly thought we would have to close but the money helped to tide us over.”
Now the Trust has opened a new charity shop in Holderness Road, Hull, and has invested in appointing its own vet and veterinary nurse.
Sue said: “Our vet fees were running to something like £200,000 a year and we couldn’t keep pace with that. Ultimately, we thought we would be better off employing our own for things like vaccinations, neutering and other routine care that can be done here.
“It is exclusively for the animals we have here, and it means we won’t keep losing a member of staff for two hours at a time to take animals to the vet. It also gives us continuity and consistency of treatment. The animals now have their own family doctor!
“We managed to secure a grant to fit out the new surgery but the only other funding we get is what we raise ourselves. Legacies are very important for us, the shop is a regular source of income and Half a Lettuce was a lovely bonus in terms of funds and raising our profile. Our message to people who want to support us is please buy the book and donate, donate, donate!”
To order a copy of Half a Lettuce, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out more about Hull Animal Welfare Trust, please visit https://hullanimalwelfare.co.uk